Clinton emails from Weiner probe are fair game for possible disclosure, judge says
A federal judge said Monday that emails relating to Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of state that were found during an FBI investigation of former Rep. Anthony Weiner could be subject to public disclosure as part of a pending lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, presiding over a hearing one day before the presidential election between Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, scheduled a Nov. 29 hearing to discuss whether the FBI had provided the records to the State Department.
FBI Director James Comey shook the presidential race on Oct. 28 when he informed Congress that agents had recovered the emails, found on a device used by Weiner, the disgraced New York Democrat married to top Clinton aide Huma Abedin and under investigation for an online relationship with a minor.
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Comey said Sunday that the FBI had reviewed the new content and that he would not change his controversial July recommendation against criminally charging Clinton with mishandling classified information while using a private and insecure private email server.
At the Monday hearing, Justice Department attorney Lisa Olson said she had no personal knowledge of the contents of the emails, but she assumed they would have to be reviewed for possible disclosure if the FBI delivers them to the State Department.
Olson said the State Department believes it has a standing request to the FBI that it turn over additional Clinton-related documents that it has discovered but said that the Weiner device emails have not yet been supplied.
The judge said he could not force the FBI to give the emails to the State Department, which is the target of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits from conservative transparency group Judicial Watch, but scheduled the hearing to assess progress anyhow.
Before the development involving Weiner, the Judicial Watch case was focused on disclosure of work-related Clinton emails and documents that she did not provide for archiving but that were found by the FBI during its investigation of Clinton's email use.
Chris Fedeli, an attorney for the group, told U.S. News after the hearing it's possible Judicial Watch would pursue FOIA litigation targeting the FBI if the bureau does not give the records to the State Department. But he says he expects the FBI will provide them and expressed satisfaction with Boasberg's apparent eagerness to move the case along.
Boasberg, discussing the existing set of documents subject to the lawsuit, calculated that it may take five years for the State Department to process all documents for public disclosure if the work is performed at the currently ordered rate.
"I'm not satisfied saying, 'Fine, go ahead and take five years,'" he told Olson, scheduling a status hearing in March to revisit the pace, pegging that hearing to occur after a hearing on a FOIA lawsuit from Vice journalist Jason Leopold.
There are several unknowns in the current case. It's unclear, for example, exactly how many of the recently discovered emails are duplicates or essentially duplicates, or how many pages actually are included in the files, which could affect the speed of processing.
Olson convinced the judge to bump the follow-up hearing on the Abedin-Weiner device one day to allow for additional preparation following the Thanksgiving holiday.
Boasberg resisted initially, asking if he was overestimating the complexity of saying whether or not the records had been procured.
"One never knows," Olson said.
"That's a fair statement in this case," the judge said, consenting to an extra day.
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